A Conspicuous Gap in Cultural Studies: Popular Music in the English Studies Classroom

Jim Knippling


The question we ask most often—on one level or another—about a literary text is, “What does it mean?” Generalizing rather wildly, I would argue that when popular music was first brought into English studies classrooms during the 1960s (on vinyl LP records), it was treated as a living, contemporary, and (especially) “relevant” kind of verse that happened to be set to a melody. That is, the song lyrics of Dylan, Simon, Mitchell, and Lennon were treated as a form of literature to be mimeographed in aniline purple ink, published in anthologies, and given the honorary distinction of being discussed right alongside good old Coleridge and Auden. Musical style and form were briefly noted but almost always subordinated to analysis of the lyrics. In short, the songs were colonized as verse. The key questions raised about that verse were What statement is being made? What does it mean?


Popular Music; English Studies

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